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Activity Advent Calendar

Christmas is coming! While it can be hard to think that far ahead in the family calendar, it will be here before you know it so, it’s time to start planning. 

Many families start off the month of December counting down to the big holiday in various ways, including the old standard chocolate Advent calendar, or the visitation of a certain spying elf. Companies have started offering themed Advent calendars featuring everything from beer and wine for the grown-ups to art supplies, bath products, and toys. This year, why not try an activity-based calendar that will delight the entire family? 

Before my child was born, I had grown to absolutely hate Christmas. I had worked retail for most of my university career, and I found the slog of Christmas music, commercialism and rude customers (combined with the stress of family obligations) made me dread the holiday. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I was completely done! 

One year, I tried something new, and the Activity Advent was born. Back before kids, the Advent calendar was just a jar filled with slips of paper that had fun holiday items written on them. Every day, my husband and I would pull one out. These included easy tasks like wearing Christmas socks, getting a fancy holiday-themed beverage, watching a holiday movie, or baking cookies. 

Once our child was born, the Advent calendar changed to a fixed schedule. Each slip was marked for the correct day and included holiday events in our community. Eventually, the jar was replaced by a traditional paper ring chain, and then upgraded to our current version – a fabric ring chain with built-in pockets for each slip of paper.

My favorite thing about the Activity Advent is that it’s completely customizable! We pick events and activities that we enjoy as a family and have some back-up ideas on hand just in case. Pinterest is full of great activity ideas from other parents, and Calgary has tons of family events throughout December. For families who prefer to celebrate the more religious aspects of Christmas, feel free to add Bible readings to your calendar alongside the activities. Families can choose to fill their Advent with reading a different holiday book every day, outings, activities around the house, or mix up different ideas! If your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, you can repurpose this idea to make a different countdown! Just select the number of days to the event you’re counting down to and that’s the number of activities you need.

Creating your Activity Advent Calendar

  1. Build your calendar. Slips of paper in a jar, paper rings, fabric rings, small boxes, a purchased (or made) garland of mittens or stockings, a refillable advent calendar, a custom website… there’s no wrong way to put your calendar together! You just need somewhere you can have your items written down for the family to see.
  2. Pick your activities. You’ll need 24 or 25 items, depending on if you’d like to have an activity for Christmas morning or not. I suggest having a couple simple activities in case you need to change something last minute due to weather, event closures, illness or just not feeling up to an activity. It’s a great idea to talk with your family as well and find out what holiday/winter activities everyone likes the best. You might be surprised! While watching Muppets Christmas Carol is definitely a favorite in our house, other items like donating to the food bank or writing Christmas cards have been surprise hits.
  3. Just open an activity a day and count down to Christmas! 

When I began my Activity Advent I was disenchanted with Christmas as a whole, but by choosing to get excited about one small thing a day, I found some joy in the season again. This is a tradition our family enjoys every year, and it reminds us to take some time together, even in the busiest season.

Trista is a stay-at-home mom and loves to share her discoveries about how to make life in Calgary work for families of all kinds.

Here are some ideas from my collection:

  • Wear Christmas socks
  • Donate a book
  • Mail/write Christmas cards
  • Decorate the tree
  • Visit with Santa
  • Watch a holiday movie or TV special (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Family Christmas, ELF, Frozen, Miracle on 34th Street, Jack Frost, and Frosty the Snowman are all favorites in our house)
  • Make/decorate a gingerbread house 
  • Wear Christmas sweaters
  • Paint the windows
  • Decorate the house
  • Fancy Christmas drinks
  • Bake cookies
  • Wrap gifts
  • Make a holiday craft (fusible bead ornaments, photo ornaments, salt-painted snowflakes, paper snowflakes, bird seed ornaments, etc.) 
  • Go Christmas caroling (or sing carols inside)
  • Go to Zoolights at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo
  • Christmas light drive
  • Try to freeze bubbles
  • Leave out a snack for Santa
  • Play in the snow (make a snowman, make a snow Mr. Potato Head, make snow angels, paint the snow, have a snowball fight)
  • Donate a toy or food   
  • Read Christmas books
  • Go snowshoeing
  • Go ice skating
  • Go to a craft fair
  • Watch The Nutcracker Ballet
  • Go to Lions Festival of Lights
  • Visit Santa’s reindeer
  • Go to the Airdrie Santa Claus Parade
  • Go to the Festival of Trees
  • Visit the Spruce Meadows Christmas Light Drive-Through
  • Make gifts for friends
  • Deliver gifts to the Seniors Secret Service Christmas Cheer program 
  • Christmas Mad Libs 
  • Collect pinecones
  • Write a letter to Santa
  • Make gingerbread men
  • Drink apple cider
  • Go sledding
  • Have a pajama day
  • Wear something sparkly
  • Look at old Christmas photos
  • Go on a sleigh ride
  • Visit Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park
  • Visit the penguins at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo
  • Wear red and green
  • Volunteer
  • Take pictures outside
  • Build a cardboard fireplace
  • Give out candy canes
  • Random act of kindness for a neighbor
  • Bring treats to the fire station
  • Donate blankets to a shelter
  • Bring treats to a nursing home
  • Donate an outgrown coat
  • Dress up for dinner
  • Paint the snow
  • Play hockey
  • Build a candy nativity
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Have a dance party
  • Christmas coloring pages
  • Have a family board game night
  • Look for animal tracks in the snow
  • Have a red and green themed dinner
  • Make snowman pancakes
  • Have a sleepover under the tree
  • Make a meal for someone
  • Have a snowman building competition
  • Make Christmas crackers
  • Make a popcorn garland
  • Wear Christmas pajamas
  • Visit the CP Holiday Train
  • Go to a Christmas concert
  • See a Christmas play
  • Host a fancy dinner party
  • Read some Christmas verses from the Bible
  • Visit the Airdrie Festival of Lights

Trista is a stay-at-home mom and loves to share her discoveries about how to make life in Calgary work for families of all kinds.


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